WASHINGTON — A resurgence of violence and a renewed threat from al-Qaida have recently revived flagging U.S. interest in Iraq, officials said Friday as Baghdad asked for new help to fight extremists less than two years after it forced American troops to withdraw.
Faced with security crises across the Mideast, North Africa and Asia, the White House largely has turned its attention away from Iraq since U.S. forces left in 2011. But the country has been hit with deadly bombings at a rate reminiscent of Iraq’s darkest days, stoking new fears of a civil war. More than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in terror-related attacks in July, the deadliest month since 2008.
The violence has spurred Baghdad to seek new U.S. aid to curb the threat, said Iraqi Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. He said a U.S. assistance package could include a limited number of advisers, intelligence analysis and surveillance assets — including lethal drones.
“There is greater realization in the Iraq government that we should not shy away from coming and asking for some help and assistance,” Zebari told reporters Friday in Washington.
He described U.S. interest in Iraq after the 2011 troop withdrawal as “indifferent, completely” but said that seemed to shift as the White House realized al-Qaida’s resurrection there.
“Recently I noticed, and during this visit specifically, there is a renewed interest because of the seriousness of the situation and the challenges,” Zebari said. “I think that is because of the threat of terrorism, the threat of the renewal of al-Qaida and its affiliates has become a serious, serious concern to the U.S.”
The American troops left Iraq in December 2011 as required under a 2008 security agreement. Both countries tried to negotiate plans, but failed, to keep at least several thousand U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the deadline to maintain security. But the proposal fell through after Baghdad refused to give the troops immunity from legal charges, as Washington demanded.